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  • Requiem — Herbert Howells
  • He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea — J.A.C. Redford
  • Requiem — Maurice Duruflé

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Two 20th-century composers share the spotlight in this program featuring Requiem settings by Englishman Herbert Howells and Frenchman Maurice Duruflé, complementing the world premiere of a work commissioned in memory of Valley music icon Dr. Harvey K. Smith.

Requiem – Herbert Howells

For these concerts the Chorale performs Herbert Howells’s Requiem for the first time, exploring a work of hope and comfort filled with text from the Book of Common Prayer, the Latin Requiem Mass, and the Bible including verse from the book of Psalms. A contemporary of Duruflé, Howells studied with Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry at the Royal College of Music, where he himself later taught as well as at London University. Howells followed Gustav Holst as director of music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith.

Howells, whom Stanford called his “son in music,” wrote chamber and orchestral works, songs, and cathedral music. The composer took inspiration for his Requiem from counterpoint and the works of Elgar and Vaughan Williams and was further affected by the death of a close friend in World War I combat. After recovering from the life-threatening autoimmune condition known as Graves Disease, Howells used chromatic, dissonant harmonies and a fluid structure for the Requiem, and later drew from its material for his work Hymnus Paradisi, a memorial to his son Michael who died from polio at the age of nine.

He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea – J.A.C. Redford

Dr. Harvey K. Smith, a Governor’s Arts Award winner who led the Phoenix Boys Choir for 40 years, conducted the choir on a Grammy-winning recording, and left a legacy of great musical influence across Arizona, died in 2012 after battling Parkinson’s disease. His wife Dorothy Lincoln Smith commissioned a work from J.A.C. Redford in Smith’s memory for Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale, describing her husband’s special affection for conductor and ensemble: “Charles and Harvey were good friends; Harvey would never miss a Chorale concert.” She adds, “Charles came to visit Harvey when he was homebound, and sent members of the Chorale to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Harvey…Charles came to Harvey’s bedside and we all planned his memorial service together.”

Lincoln Smith was a professional singer herself, touring with the Roger Wagner Chorale and working closely with her husband and the Boys Choir. She suggested personally significant poetry from George Herbert and verse from the Bible for the new work, explaining, “The joyful text was chosen to exemplify Harvey’s total radiance and happiness with his work with the Phoenix Boys Choir and with his family.”

“The text ‘He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea’ shows his love of the ocean and of scuba diving. The psalms are about the ocean but also songs of praise to God, and the joy of living…and the Habakkuk passages, ‘For thou makest men like the fish of the sea’ and ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ we used under a photo of the two of us (diving) on Christmas cards.”

Redford — who orchestrated, conducted and later arranged Adele’s “Skyfall” in a setting premiered by the Phoenix Chorale in 2013 — was influenced by the music of Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Claude Debussy when he wrote “He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea.” He says, “How could I possibly avoid the influence of the Sea Symphony and La Mer?”

Although Redford has composed extensively for film, television, theater, orchestra and chamber ensemble, he says, “I have always had a particular affection for vocal music. The human voice is a powerful, vulnerable, perilous, sensitive, maddening, and heartbreaking instrument, a heaven-bound exhalation of the first breath with which God inspired man.”

Redford continues, “When I set out to compose a vocal work, the choice of a text is critical to me. My goal is always to illuminate the words — as the monks of the Middle Ages illuminated their manuscripts — so that the audience better understands the poem after hearing it sung. To achieve this, I try to let the natural accents and rhythms of the spoken words dictate the rhythms of the music.” In “He That Will Learn to Pray,” listen for emphasis on the words “follow” and “declare” — his setting of the latter, says Redford, “seeks to make the word itself sound like a declaration.” He also points out references to “traditional maritime musical forms, such as the naval hymn, the sailor’s prayer and the sea shanty.”

“I am deeply grateful to Dorothy for her suggestions of the texts as well as her encouragement during the process of the composition,” says Redford. “As I wrote, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to honor Harvey’s life and legacy with my composition.” He adds, “I am also grateful to Charles for years of friendship and for trusting me with this commission. The work is rooted in these relationships.”

Requiem – Maurice Duruflé

Born in 1902, Maurice Duruflé won multiple top honors and ultimately became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. He held the lifelong post of organist at St. Étienne-du-Mont from the age of 28. Duruflé studied organ with Charles Tournemire, Eugène Gigout and Louis Vierne and composition with Paul Dukas, drawing strong influence from plainsong tradition. As a thoughtful and self-critical composer, he published only a handful of highly regarded works.

The restrained and peaceful 1947 Requiem, which Duruflé dedicated to the memory of his father and revised in 1961, was expanded from a set of organ compositions based on medieval Gregorian chants from the Mass for the Dead. The composer personalized the work with subtly modernized rhythms and rich harmonies, and intended the organ’s role to sustain, comment, and underline. The Requiem omits the “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”) section, emphasizing grace, forgiveness and the faith of the living.

Duruflé was seriously injured in a 1975 car accident, leaving him largely housebound for the remaining decade of his life. The composer’s Requiem was performed at his memorial service in 1986.

© Program notes by Katrina Becker